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Is… is this guy serious?
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Is… is this guy serious?
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Wait a minute… one of them has special goggles, but can the other just see perfectly fine in that?
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How many of those things does he have!?
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The Metal doesn’t seem to have a very high opinion of this Jerry guy.
Still chugging a little slow this year, but new stuff is actually being produced as we speak, including a couple shorts that were supposed to be on this site last year. But in the meantime, today’s Art Round-up is spotlight on the artist Kiyo [kiyooo on Newgrounds/KiyoInHell on Twitter]. She is a wonderful artist, in both respects of illustration and animation, that doesn’t post nearly enough. While hanging out in the Newgrounds Festivals discord server, she decided to doodle the mascot of this fine publication, Zeba, in various poses and expression as well as adding The Metal in there for good measure. She refers to this as a “Family Portrait” after putting the character’s creator over arching at the top.
On top of this, she also threw Zeba into the background of a recent animation for round 4 of the Newgrounds Animation Summer Jams as a little plushie with a camera that you can see here in Charlie’s Little Dance.
And here is just the a snapshot of how Zeba appears in the video for those that didn’t watch it. I think Kiyo really captured the essence of Zeba there, don’t you?
But that’s not all I’m talking about involving Kiyo in today’s post. I ended up liking her doodles so much that I took her pencils and turned them into fully colored scenes. So, enjoy the my interpretations of the images below to close things out.
Time for another Art Round-up, Which has sadly been most of the little content added to this site. Mr. Terzich apologizes for the content drought, but he’s been busy on moving some gears in the background and should really be drawing pages for the webcomic. Feel free to yell at him about it. This week we get this image because artist ΛMӨΣBΛ had said a while back that he’d do a picture of The Metal and finally worked it into his daily warm-up. We thank him for this gift that perfectly captures the playfulness of The Metal!
Remember to send us any fan art or the like of Ex Dynamis Chaos related images so we can re-host them and spread the love back to the artists.
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What kind of incompetent guards do they have at this place? They literally ran right in!
And that’s the deadline people! Thank you everyone who submitted entries, whether you made it in time or not. Even though late entries won’t be accepted for voting, we’ll still retweet them on Twitter and add them to the next Art Round-up after the contest concludes. Below is every entry available for the poll of which will be placed at the bottom of the post. It is okay if you already know who you plan to vote for, but please consider taking the time to appreciate each entrant’s hard work on your way down.
Well, that’s all of them folks. Maybe give them another once over to make sure you really soaked them all in before casting your vote. Okay, We’ll just assume you gave them enough thought. The link to the poll will be directly below. Please don’t share it around directly and use the link to this gallery instead. It’s not just help our metrics, be assured. It is to keep this as fair to all participants as possible since you have to scroll past the gallery to get to the poll. This poll will run up to the 30th of this month and results will be posted on the 1st of May. Thank you and vote honestly.
Terzich’s Note: So that the story can continue uninterrupted, I will be continuously posting chapters as they are finished. However, I want to keep the format consistent and will be posting this like it is one book. That means All of the Act II chapters will be added here instead of separate posts. I’ll be sure to notify everyone via social media when to check back to this page for new content.
Also, this follows the content of the novelized version of Act I and thus contains potentially confusing spoilers for those only reading the comic. Read ahead at your own risk.
“Holy shit, I wasn’t expecting it to explode,” hollered out a mid-toned, slightly rasp, feminine voice from within the smoke.
“Metal! Is that you in there!?”
“Who the hell else would it be? There was no one else stuffed in there with me.”
“It’s just…” Sentri let out as the smoke disappeared, “You don’t quite seem like you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The Metal’s perception finally caught up with the rest of the world as the inner ear ringing caused by the blast settled down enough to hear the vocal change. The Metal looked down for a quick once over and realized -she- was quite different than before. Her hair was just a bit longer, features quite softer, and weight redistributed from evenly throughout to two places in particular. Her gi top was not designed to accommodate The Metal’s new assets, so she had to quickly put her weights back on just to keep them in place when moving about.
“What?” Buck interjected
“I can hardly even tell I’m wearing these?”
“There’s no way, those things weigh a ton. I’ve felt them myself.”
“I kid you not, these weights feel light as a feather.”
“Get over here, you imbecile,” said Pitaya as he grabbed The Metal by the collar and whisked her over to a fancy station in the corner of the lab that was somehow still in working order. He sat The Metal on one of his many titanium folding chairs and stuck a lot of nodes upon various spots of her body.
“Well doc, is it dysentery? Am I not makin’ it to Oregon after all?”
“Can you ever be serious?” he asked rhetorically before going over the results. “Well shit… yeah, um, you’re apparently female down to the genetic level and your vitals are at peak performance. By Odin’s beard, how is that even possible?”
Everyone turned and gave The Metal looks of confusion.
“What? Suddenly switching genders like magic isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. It’s actually kind of interesting, to say the least. Besides, if it happened one way then there has got to be a way to get back. But in the meantime, we have a fight to finish.”
“My lab has been utterly trashed twice now and you suddenly became a girl. I don’t think I have enough fucks to give anymore. You have fun with your stupid tournament, I’m going to my room and dealing with all this in the morning. I’d be grateful if you all took your leave.”
He left through the main entrance, slamming the door behind him. From a distance, they could faintly hear Pitaya screaming, “WHAT!?!?!?!?” at the top of his lungs. Kavi split as well, without the ability to contain his laughter. The others were still crowded outside the torn up lab, discussing as they do.
“So…” Sentri murmured
“The world keeps spinning. We keep to the schedule. The final round takes place on the Chinese New Year, so I have most of Winter to figure out how to change back. We’ll take the weekend off and get started.”
“Yo, you’re taking this rather well.”
“Eh, it’s not the first time I’ve been a woman, believe it or not. That said, be at my place Monday morning or I’ll make you regret it.”
This weekend was considerably dull compared to the last couple of weeks. Probably a nice change of pace for everyone except the lunatic they tend to follow around. Monday morning came and they all showed up. It was hard to tell just when The Metal was joking or not about this dilemma, so everyone nervously smiled and nodded at everything. Sentri even brought his family along. Always assuming for the worst with The Metal, he figured it would take much longer than she expected and it’d be best if his family just stayed at her place for the time being. It’s not like she doesn’t have the room. No one really knows how The Metal managed to do it, or exactly how legal it was for that matter, but she somehow got her own dojo in the middle of town. It was the traditional kind that had a large house attached to the training hall, a bunkhouse for visitors, a garden with a pond, and a ten-foot wall around the entire property sealed off by a single oak gate. The Kidd, Sentri, and Buck found her in the same place The Metal was most days she wasn’t running around causing trouble: the training hall.
The Metal was wearing a traditional Chinese style uniform like the ones they wore on their way to Hong Kong. Luckily for her, almost all of her clothes were unisex anyway since The Metal insists on wearing some type of martial arts related outfit any chance it comes up. The floor of the hall was covered in metallic dust and shreds of dense fabric from custom heavy bags she tore up before they arrived.
“You seem lively at least, bro.”
“Despite some unforeseen side effects, the machine seems to have worked. I feel stronger and more energized than ever.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re not letting it get you down much. So, where do we start?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“There’s a gig there that might turn into a lead if we do a good enough job.”
“It’s a start and beggars can’t be choosers.”
The group split up to separate rooms to unpack their bags just so the could repack them with the essentials: a week’s worth of clothes, falsified documents, Electromagnetic Psionic arms, concealable melee weapons, pocket-sized explosives, and of course fruit snacks. By noon, they were all gathered in the yard waiting for The Metal to inform the team on the travel plans.
She didn’t say a single word just standing there grinning with her hands in her pockets. Then, The Metal let out a snide laugh as she looked up into the sky. Everyone else cocked their heads up to see what was going on when from within a large cloud emerged a titanous machine covered in a strange alloy that looked like jet black gold. It was a big as a high school football stadium and shaped like some sort of boat with odd-looking cannons all along the deck. The thing appeared to suspiciously hover in the air without any blades, jets, or other known forms of propulsion, but it was almost as if you could see light slightly bending around several large disc-like structures scattered across the outer hull. It was an airship unlike any man had yet seen.
“Jesus Christ, what fresh hell is that!?”
“Remember when you asked what the Chrysanthemum was? Well, there she is. First of her kind, Dreadnaught Class Airship – Prototype 1.”
“I can’t believe you actually managed to make an airship that wasn’t just full of hot air.”
“Well, it wasn’t just me. Joe and I worked on this project together up until he dipped out with it. But we hashed things out after that trouble in Hong Kong. I agreed to let him continue to captain the ship since he already has a functioning crew and he’s agreed to fly me places whenever I need to travel a long distance.”
“Wait, bro… Joe has a crew?”
The ship held its position once it was only a hundred feet above the dojo and released what appeared to be a dingy roughly the size of a tank that hovered down to retrieve them. The vessel docked neatly into a storage bay at the bottom of the Chrysanthemum that was deserted aside from them. Knowing her way around, The Metal led the group to a shaft that bypassed the other decks straight to the bridge where Joe would be awaiting them. After climbing several stories and reaching the first sign of life since they entered this cold mechanical monstrosity, all but The Metal found themselves in a confused state of being both simultaneously surprised and yet not at all after seeing the crew.
Dressed in what could only be described as a sultry parody of a sailor’s uniform, the bridge was littered with Nekomimi operating the instruments, cleaning the floors, and scurrying around preparing a buffet table for their captain’s guests. There must have been at least twenty in the chamber with a couple of them in different, yet equally revealing, uniforms that made it clear which ones were the officers. The catgirls varied in all number of fur colors and builds, with the exception of anyone being the slightest overweight as Joe has always had a loathing disgust toward the obese. And just as the newcomers to the ship were distracted, the captain’s chair swiveled around revealing Joe smirking with a twisted satisfaction for the life he built here.
“Welcome to my ship, I hope you enjoy your stay amongst the classiest crew ever to fly the high skies.”
“Bro, Your entire crew consists of catgirls?”
“Oh yeah, they’re all rescues.”
The Kidd, Sentri, and Buck all jerked their heads toward The Metal after she spoke of the crew as if they were pets.
“What? Joe and I literally rescued them… from practical slavery. Not every orphan that gets turned into a Nekomimi gets to work a nice job like package delivery or commentary for fights. Some have to do very dirty things. So when this airship project grew big enough that we needed a crew to operate it, I sneaked in and broke some of the girls loose. The genetic modifications actually help them learn new skills very quickly.”
“That and I have a thing for catgirls.”
The Metal shrugged and nodded to Joe’s statement while everyone else just shook their heads. It wasn’t a long trip from Dallas to Crete due to the speed the Chrysanthemum was able to obtain, but neither The Metal nor Joe the Short bothered to inform the others about that fact. At their leisurely pace, it took The Kidd, Sentri, and Buck about ten minutes to walk to the guest quarters. After only ten minutes of settling in and playing games, they heard Joe on the PA system saying, “This is your beloved and majestic captain speaking. We will be entering Greasy airspace in just five minutes. Please be in the drop bay by that time as we are only slowing to a hundred and twenty miles per hour and you don’t want to miss your stop!”
“Wait, Kidd… your brother is joking, right!?”
“Yeah, sure,” He replied while getting up and jolting toward the door. “The guy we all picked on for years is joking about kicking us out of a moving ship going over a hundred miles per hour.”
“But it’s Metal’s ship, too. He wouldn’t let him…”
Sentri and The Kidd stopped just long enough to send a stern and disappointed glare toward Buck before continuing down the hatch.
“Shit, you’re right. That asshole probably thinks this sounds fun.”
The guys shoot down a ladder and scurry to find their way through the winding corridors lined with cables and pipes. The Kidd darted through mostly fine, hollering to get the nekomimis working on the innards of the ship to move out of the way. Sentri trailed just behind him but had some trouble ducking around the pipes since this ship was constructed by two people that stand only five and a half feet tall who wouldn’t consider much the difficulty someone over six feet would have navigating the tighter maintenance tunnels. And slugging behind both of the was Buck, who had no issue with the size of the tunnels yet still found himself tripping and crashing into everything thanks to his klutzy nature.
Entering the drop bay just within the given time frame, the guys spot a nekomimi crewmember standing by the open hatch with four parachutes hanging from her arms. They sprint over to her to grab their chutes and right before they get there she tosses them out the bay door. The stopped dead in their tracks, absolutely floored by the sheer gall of this action, when The Metal came up from behind them. Laughing like the mad man she is, The Metal spun around as she passed them, shouted “training never stops, boys”, and flipped backward out of the ship while saluting them.
“No way,” Buck hollered to the others. “I’ll just sit this one out-”
Before he could finish what he was saying, Sentri kicked him through the hatch. They couldn’t hear it, but they were positive Buck was screaming, “Screw you!” The Kidd shot Sentri a bewildered look.
“We don’t have time for that right now. We have to catch those chutes.”
The two of them leaped out to the airship and narrowed themselves to try and catch up to the bags tumbling through the air. Unsurprised, they noticed The Metal was already scooping up one of the chutes just as they joined the dive. She slung the straps over her shoulders and extended her limbs out to catch as much air as possible to slow down. The others were quickly gaining on him and the other packs. It took Buck a bit to reorient himself in the air since he was so violently kicked out. Maybe a bit too long. The packs kept the same velocity as the ship after being thrown out with The Kidd and Sentri who dropped out at the same speed being able to line up with their targets. Buck, on the other hand, fumbled through the air at the speed of the airship minus Sentri kicking him in the opposite direction and was way too far off the path to catch up.
“Son of a bitch!”
She undid her top, which despite looking like a traditional silk kung fu saam was as heavily woven as her usual gi, and spread it out with her arms to increase her wind resistance. Hanging back, she caught up to Buck and took the chute off her back.
“You’re welcome!” The Metal screamed at Buck as she put the pack onto him and pulled the cord before he had a chance to adjust.
“I hate you!”
She rolled her eyes as Buck yielded away from her to safety. Everyone else already had a deployed parachute, but The Metal still needed to catch the last one. She saw it and tried using her sail-like top in different positions to glide toward it. The air whipped across her face pulling her hair tightly back as she dove as fast as she could to grab the bag. She reached her hands forward and just as The Metal grasped the straps in her fingers she realized that she had run out of time.
The others landed on a nearby beach and saw The Metal crash headfirst into the Aegean Sea. Quickly removing their chutes, they scurried to the water to see if she was alright. They began wading in and screaming for The Metal, but several meters off she rose out of the ocean as if she walked all the way to shore. She had her top off, fully displaying her normal training weights and a bikini top underneath, so could ring as much of the water out of it as possible.
“Jesus Christ, Metal! Are you okay?”
“Oh yeah,” she said before spitting out some water. “I’ll manage. This is just another reason why I always wear a swimsuit instead of normal underwear. Always gotta be prepared for the worst.” She then took off her pants to ring them out as well.
“So,” The Kidd asked, “What now?”
“Now,” The Metal replied, pulling her slightly dryer clothes back over her body, “We take a ride all the way across the island Chania where we’ll meet up with an old friend of ours. Luckily, one of us keeps a plethora of various currencies in their hammerspace”
It took them roughly two hours to make it from where they landed in Heraklion to their destination in Chania. They had to hoof it some of the way due to the construction of some large scaffolding covering in lights and draped with black curtains taking up the entire road in front of the hotel to which The Metal said they were heading. And that’s when it clicked for the rest of them. They couldn’t understand a word of Greek written on the two-story-tall promotional poster, but they the person on it and the only two words that mattered: Laney Lin.
“Jesus Christ, you weren’t pulling my leg! How the hell does this happen to someone twice!?”
“It’s good to see you too, Laney.”
They found Laney Lin in her suite practicing her songs for the show in a couple of nights. She always arrived days in advance so she could acclimate to the local climate and run through her routine as much as possible. Keeping in line with her former sensei’s training, Laney treated every aspect of her life in the same way that she treats her martial arts. Lying all over her room were broken heels, ripped dresses, torn guitar strings, and cracked nails. Nothing was in its place. The bedding was scattered about. All the furniture had been pressed up against the walls. And somehow, the bathroom sink had been lodged into the ceiling. She had been practicing so hard that she was visibly sweating when they walked in.
She dropped her guitar immediately after recognizing that the small, blonde woman before was her old teacher and ran over. Without asking permission, Laney began inspecting The Metal’s form; poking and prodding to see if this was reality or a mere illusion. Though peeved, The Metal was being patient with his pupil’s curiosity up until the point that she cupped her breasts.
“Knock it off, Laney!” The Metal said smacking her in the back of the head.
“Yep, you’re definitely Metal,” she said rubbing the spot where she was struck. “This situation won’t do at all. I can’t marry someone with bigger breasts than me.”
The Metal smacked her in the head again even harder than last time.
“Jesus,” she said tending to the wound, “you’re never to anger over humor. This must be getting to you more than you let off.”
“Are you gonna help or should I just leave now?”
“I’m not gonna help you. You’re gonna help you.”
“Yo, this about that job you were talkin’ about, bro?”
“Yeah, Laney posted it directly in the group chat… that she is still in for some reason. But it wasn’t really clear what you wanted. You just went on and on about how you couldn’t get it yourself.”
Laney was never good at telling stories. She had a tendency to start much further back than what is helpful and rattle on about every single detail whether it is important to know or not. Laney had heard wind of an artifact hidden in the labyrinth that can alter parts of reality. Of course, she wants it to become stronger but it may also be useful in helping The Metal return back to her original form. She’d go get it herself, but she has a show to perform and she was always horrible with directions, to be honest. Laney would likely be trapped in that labyrinth for days before she finally got fed up and started destroying the place.
“I have to say, Laney, I’m disappointed that you’d resort to seeking power this way.”
“But, Sensei, training is so hard and I never catch up!”
“It’s not about catching up!” The Metal said smacking Laney in the back of the head. “It’s about getting better than you were yesterday.” Not wanting to waste any more time, the group turned for the door and almost left when The Metal stopped in her tracks to ask, “Well Laney, are you gonna tell us where to find the labyrinth?”
There was a moment of unsettling silence before her response. “Yeah,” she smirked and giggle out, “on a singular condition.”
“That ungrateful… see if I ever take in a kid off the streets again.”
Even after hiking roughly eighty-five miles, stopping at two different hotels for rest, and eating several meals, the others still found themselves occasionally giggle at The Metal as she popped off into miniature tantrums mumbling under her breath. Heels clacking down the street, the only way that spiteful woman would tell The Metal where the entrance to the Knossos Labyrinth was located was if she one of the many outfits Laney brought with her the entire time. From the walk to Sylamos all the way until they brought the artifact back. In fact, Laney went to town on everything from the make-up to the accessories dolling her up like a modern Grecian Goddess. Toga dress and all. Not only was it difficult enough to walk while there were still roads, but it also became a nightmare once they had to tread off the path to climb to the entrance.
You see, the Labyrinth of King Minos was much larger than anyone but the creator, Daedelus, himself knew. Although the only entrance known to Minos laid beneath the palace in Knossos, the winding structure spun many in each direction deep below the island’s surface. Due to cave-ins over the centuries, almost no one is aware of this. They believe the disconnected cave beneath the palace and many others like it scattered about merely inspired the myth. And that’s precisely what the powers that be would like them to believe. The Labyrinth was such an ingenious structure that after Theseus defeated Minotauros and people stopped getting thrown down there, the Gods began using it to store stuff they didn’t want anyone to find. They mostly sent Hermes down there when needed, since he was the best navigator literally anyone knew. The place was so confusing and entropically silent that even competing pantheons couldn’t traverse it and eventually quit trying.
“Bro, I thought there was only one entrance to this joint. Why are we out in the middle of the countryside and not at that rich dude’s castle?”
“Pardon?” Sentri whipped out.
“As you likely know, Daedalus was a caring man. Maybe too caring for his own good. When designing the structure, he felt pity for anything, man, beast, or whatever, that might be imprisoned within. So, without telling anyone about it, he built in a backdoor.”
“A backdoor… to a giant labyrinth no one can navigate?”
“It wasn’t a great solution, but the only one someone in his position could take at the time. Now, this door is the only one the few beings that run through here can use. I was aware it existed, but I had no idea where it would be until Laney hunted down the information for me.”
“How on Earth did you trust she would even know where to look?” questioned Buck.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she said feeling around on a natural-looking stone wall. “I did a little manipulating and pushed her in the right direction. I don’t even think she’s realized I was the one that pulled the strings to get her production company to hold a concert here in the first place.”
Buck was floored to hear this information. He didn’t believe it past The Metal, but he was still surprised all the same. And just like that, a segment of the stone clicked in and a doorway emerged from its surface. One after the other, the four miscreants made their descent down a dark stairway until they came to a drop at the end. The Metal crouched and felt the lip of the platform, finding narrow cracks spaces like rungs in a ladder carved into the wall. Much too thin for the monstrous hands and hooves of Minotauros to use, but not for most humans. That is if they are properly dressed for the occasion.
“What is it now?”
“There is a ladder carved into the wall, but there is no way these heels will fit with how thick the bases are.”
“Then take them off. We’re like a hundred miles away and in the actual Labyrinth. It’s not like Laney will know.”
“I know you never got into the martial arts as deep as the rest of us, Sentri, but Laney is still my disciple regardless of whether she abandoned us or not. As her sensei, I’m only as good as my word. Besides,” she said letting out a hefty sigh, “she probably has something on this ensemble bugged.”
The other three all smacked their foreheads in near unison.
“Welp, guess it’s good I’m not wearing my weights due to this stupid deal.”
The Metal then slid off the edge, spinning around and gripping the stone slits on her way down. She attempted to climb down swiftly using only her upper body strength, but after only a few rungs the others heard a scream, followed by some distant swearing, and eventually a loud thump. Worried, the others followed down the ladder as quickly and cautiously as they could. It took several minutes to creep down the fifty-foot rockface and at the bottom, they saw The Metal massaging her sore body after having fallen buttocks first into the stone floor.
“What happened, yo?”
“You know, the thing is, you never realize how difficult climbing can be until you forget that you have tits.”
She got back to her feet and they journeyed into the labyrinth. Every wall intentionally looked exactly the same as the last to be as confusing as possible. They wandered from one corridor to the next for hours, but at no point did they feel lost. It’s never made any sense to them, but everyone has grown comfortable with the fact that The Metal’s gut has already led exactly where they were heading. Even at times when the words coming out of The Metal’s mouth indicated he had no idea about their location at all. It’s just about the weirdest ability a person could have, but an unbelievably handy one.
Around three hours in, the group stopped for lunch. Out from her hammerspace, The Metal pulled out an entire picnic full of submarine sandwiches, bags of chips, packaged fruit slices, and cans of soda-pop. Though, she had to quickly double-check that what she was handing them were actually sodas. If sharing a meal in the middle of a cross-section of a massive maze in a foreign country on the opposite side of the planet wasn’t a unique enough experience for them, it got a lot weirder when they heard footsteps echoing down the cold and stony halls many yards away from them. Confused, they stalled in the midst of their respective bites to peer over toward the sound. They weren’t too concerned at first. What could it have possibly, another human that followed them in? Thanks to Theseus, they didn’t need to worry about Minotaurus even if it could live that long. And it was a man, but not one they were prepared for.
Rounding the corner was an incredibly built man standing approximately six and a half feet tall. He was more muscular than an athlete, but it was still yet more practical, unlike a bodybuilder. Atop his torso was finely tanned, lionskin pelt fashioned into a vested tunic that draped almost as far down as his knees. Aside from the belt keeping it tight to his body, that was all he wore. His skin was nearly as pale as half the people in this room and unfitting of a man from this area. They couldn’t really make out his face very well as much of it was obscured by thick, curly, dark, dirty blonde hair sprouting from both his crown and jaw. All that was visible was his rather large nose and eyes like crashing waves in the dead of night. The man seemed as surprised to be running into anyone else in here as they were, but then he got a good look at the woman in the back.
“You!” he barked as he pointed at The Metal, still in mid-bite of her sandwich.
“Me!?” She barely got out with her mouth full.
“Metal, what the hell did you do this time?”
She simply shrugged at the question.
“Playing dumb, are we? It might have been five hundred and forty-seven years since we last crossed paths, but don’t think I forgot about you stranding me in the middle of a place that shouldn’t exist!”
“You know, this time I believe. That guy sounds more nuts than you usually do.”
Still with his arm extended toward them, the man cupped his hand as brilliant lights swarmed into it like water down a drain. Once condensed within his palm, the energy sprang forth to form a xiphos in his grip. He juggled the sword once to catch it by the blade, then lobbed it with the speed of a ballistic missile at The Metal. Wide-eyed and heart pounding, she narrowly avoided her head being split in twine. The blade continued to travel twelve feet into the nearest wall, which erupted into an explosion of stone and dust from the sheer projectile force. Everyone was physically rattled by both the consecutive sonic booms caused by the sword’s flight and the collateral damage following its landing. Then, light gleamed out from the rubble where the xiphos had stopped and funneled back on a path to the goliath’s hand.
Not waiting for him to do it again, The Metal once again accessed her hammerspace and pulled out a silver-colored can. As she shook it up, the other realized what was going on and each immediately pulled out something akin to a gas mask. She didn’t even pull the pin. The can was hurled at the large man just in time for it to be pierced by the newly formed blade. In flash, noxious fumes spewed in all directions and consumed the halls for a quarter-mile radius. If the pressure zone that it created alone didn’t make a person’s organs churn, inhaling the vapors would. Seconds later, the four of them plunged out of the smoke while outpacing its dissipation through the rest of the Labyrinth.
“It’s been a while, but that’s basically tear gas, right!?” Sentri asked loudly through his mask.
“If you managed to crank it up a hundredfold… yeah, more or less.”
“Do you think that’ll do the trick? Who the hell was that anyway?”
“If I were to go on a hunch, I’d say that was Herakles just from the lion skin tunic alone. So, probably not.”
“Herakles!? The demigod?”
“Yo, didn’t he die?”
“Eh, a lot gets changed in stories from one retelling to the next. Metaphorically, he might have died to separate his human half from his godly side, but there really is no such thing as a demigod. You’re either a normal person or not. Given that he is the son of Zeus, I think it just meant he stopped living the life he was born to and joined the rest of his family.”
“I’d call bullshit on that, but it makes just about as much sense as anything else has today.”
Looking back to see if he was following them, The Metal misstepped in her horrendous footwear and went tumbling forward through a nearby wall. The others popped in to see if she was alright and found what looked to be a shrine. I was a secret chamber decked wall to wall with murals, statues, and potentially priceless artifacts. The entire thing was gilded and in the back was exactly what they were looking for. The Metal sprang to her feet and snatched a crummy-looking sack off a pedestal and raised it above her head as if this moment was her victory.
“Ahahahaha! I told you guys, I always end up exactly where I’m trying to get to.”
“Ummm…. Metal,” Buck said cautiously, “I think I know why Hercules wants to kill you.”
Coincidentally, behind her happened to be a statue of the Goddess Hera reaching out with one hand on her hip and the other reaching toward the heavens in a pose not dissimilar to the one The Metal was striking. Due to Laney’s area-specific fashion choices, the outfit was that different either.
“Jesus! Aside from the amount of hair she has, you are practically the spitting image.”
“Yo, isn’t she the one that actively fucked with the guy his entire human life?”
“You’re damn right she is!” Heracles explained while bargaining in on them. The Metal hurried to shove the bag into her hammerspace and was promptly tackled by the son of Zeus. She reacted by giving him a left hook into his grizzly beard, but he was not even phased. In fact, he was mildly confused by it. Only for a brief moment though, as The Metal panicked and planted her heel directly into the warrior’s scrotum. She may not be Grecian God like her opponent, but the force of a freight train crashing into your gonads is enough to catch nearly anyone by surprise.
She took the opportunity to toss the lug off of her and dart out the whole she originally fell in through. The others just stood to the side because they were going to stand in the way of the great Herakles. That sounded like a death sentence. At best, maybe they could tail them and find the way out of here in case The Metal actually survives. Oddly, Herakles paused to give the Kidd a strange look of bewilderment before pursuing the one he thought to be Hera.
“You can’t run from me forever, Hera!” echoed down the corridors
“Listen, bud! I ain’t your auntie!”
She dug over and over into her hammerspace looking for something that might be helpful, tossing aside lots of pointless junk she had been unintentionally collecting over the years. Pamphlets, a decade’s worth of encyclopedias, old cell phones, a jar of fire ants, et cetera. She had just tossed in the air a set of trading cards from a game she designed and it instantly burst into confetti when an arrow fired by Herakles soared through it. Despite the particulates scattered through the air behind her, the second arrow did not miss. It wasn’t a direct shot, but even clipping The Metal’s shoulder was enough to spin her around and knock her against the wall. The draw weight of that bow must have been well over a ton. Her arm was torn wide open and blood flowed all around. Herakles didn’t even pay it any mind as he approached his target and gripped her by the throat.
“Finally. After all these millennia, you are mine… is that blood?” Herakles questioned after finally noticing. He dipped his fingers into the crimson pool and tasted a sample. “Sídēros. Yes, that’s definitely not Ichor. You’re not Hera, are you?”
“I’m fairly certain that I already made that clear.”
“My apologies. No one comes down here except those from Olympus. So when I saw someone with the seemingly unmistakable visage of my aunt, you must understand how certain I was in my pursuit.”
“I’d say I don’t blame you, but I’m never that certain about anything anymore. Why’d you come down here in the first place, anyway?”
“To find you. Or, more so, who I thought you were. We heard a rumor that Hera and Poseidon were spotted wandering around Crete, so I came down. Normally, Hermes is the one who navigates these halls, but he wasn’t sure he could handle himself around them. Not that it was a problem anyway. Turned out they just mistook you and that chubbier fella, whom I assume to be your brother, for them.”
“Why would that be a problem? I’d think they’d be free to wander around here like anyone else.”
“Do the mortals here not know? The original six Olympians, my father among them, have been missing for a couple millennia now. They just left one day and the cosmos has been a chaotic, territorial battleground between the different godly factions since. Athena is at her wit’s end handling the reigns. My goal was to bring them back, but I just can’t help myself when it comes to Hera after all she put me through.”
“Times like this, I’m glad I live in a protected neutral zone. Anyhow, I guess I should give this back,” she said while retrieving the tattered bag from her storage.
“Nah, keep it. Anything truly valuable we’d keep back in Olympus. Everything down here is just useless crap that holds nostalgia value to some of us. We just set this up to bait in other gods and fuck with them as they get lost in this maze. Consider it compensation for all,” he paused, waving his hands around the arrow wound, “… this.”
Herakles’ brow frilled as if he had a realization. He then spat in his hand, rubbed them together until oven-like heat crept off them, and then slapped The Metal’s wound. She screamed for just a second but by the time the large man’s hand was removed, the wound had vanished as if it was never there.
“Hey! Thanks, Herakles.”
“Oh please, don’t call me that. I only started using that name originally to insult Hera and it sadly stuck. Can you believe people actually think I like being called that? My friends call me Al.” He stood up and began strolling off into the other direction, before turning back around and saying, “You know, it’s so easy to get lost in here that even I have a hard time finding my way out. I was just gonna call on Hermes to pick me up, is there anywhere you want us to drop you and your party off?”
“Actually, Al, there is.”
KER-PEW! Suddenly, a bright flash of light eclipsed all of Laney’s dressing room. As it faded, The Metal, Sentri, Buck, The Kidd, Alkaios, and Hermes stood before her all laughing and shaking hands, as comfortably as if they had known each other longer than they had, before the two Grecian Gods flashed away just as swiftly as they came. Less surprised than any sane person should be, Laney simply got up from her vanity, walked over to The Metal who was changing out of the stupid dress Laney made her wear and back in her normal do’gi, and asked her, “Well, did you get it?”
“Yeah, I got it. What do you even need this for anyway?”
“That’s a secret, but I can assure you that it is for training purposes.”
“Well, I genuinely can’t be upset at that. I’ve done worse for training.” She bounced up to her feet, making sure her weights are on tight, and turned back to her student. “Okay, Laney. Now time to pay up. What was your idea for getting me back to normal?”
Laney walked back over to her vanity and began digging through one of her many bags. She eventually rustles out a coin made of a bizarre metal that looked golden yet shone as if it were red, like a metallic piece of amber. She tossed it back to her teacher and said, “with this.”
“This isn’t what I think it is, is it?”
“Oh, yeah. I found some.”
“Is anyone willing to explain it to the rest of the class?” Sentri asks unamused by well Metal and Laney communicate with minimal and uninformative exchanges.
“Laney found more Orichalcum.”
“But I thought you and Joe exhausted the remaining supply on the planet to reinforce the Chrysanthemum.”
“No, we just exhausted what was left over from Atlantis, the largest known supply. That’s not to say more couldn’t be made.”
Confused, Buck felt the need to interject: “What’s the big deal? Isn’t it just a mix of other common ores like iron, copper, tin, zinc, and nickel?”
“No, no, no. That’s just the failed attempts of alchemists that were found by people in the modern era. Little more than pyrite almost. Fool’s Orichalcum. The real deal has been a tricky substance to produce going back eons. The eldest called it Chashmal, which later became associated as a word for electricity for fairly ironic reasons. The angels would create grand structures with it and use it to fit armor for their entire armies. The first to discover the secret to producing that wasn’t from Eden was Zeus and his people began calling it Chalkolibanon. Every pantheon and society struggled to make the stuff, mostly churning out that junk compound you mentioned. The problem was that alchemists required the Prima Materia to make it work and most couldn’t figure out what that even was. Life force. If you were a god-like being, you have more than enough soul to spare to create weapons, armor, and more at the rate you can regenerate your life force. Normal beings on the other hand aren’t so blessed. Even tapping into that sort of energy often kills those who try. But the avarice of man knows no bounds. That’s where Atlantis came in for us. They knew the secret to making Orichalcum and produced it at a reasonable rate for quite some time. Then demand swiftly outpaced supply. Their king ordered his alchemist to produce as much as they could in as little time possible and they accidentally wiped the city off the face of the planet. But they did make their precious metal, they just didn’t live long enough to enjoy it. We did on the other hand.”
“That’s messed up how pleased you are benefitting off of fallen societies.”
“Whatever, dude. Bro, how is a stupid coin going to help?”
“I’m going to assume Laney wants me to visit an old friend in Thornhaven.”
“Bingo, Sensei! Anyone there would kill for any amount of Orichalcum. Especially the Coven. It’s just a shame that I’ll be too busy with my tour to see your reunion.”
In the midst of Laney’s whimsical taunting, rustling and sirens erupted outside. It wasn’t Grecian police. It was a different sort of siren accompanied by the whirring of military helicopters. The sirens cut and a voice echoed out of loudspeakers on the helicopters. It was a familiar voice that yelled, “C’mon out, you little bastard. Our local allies noticed your drop-off before and let us know you were here. You broke a lot of international agreements in the last couple of days, which gives me more than enough rights to take you out!”
“Jerry…” The Metal irritably muttered under her breath. “Okay, sport, you’re up.”
Everyone looked over at Laney, still acting cocky from before. Then she realized what her sensei meant.
“Um, excuse me?”
“What, I can’t let Jerry see me like this. He’s already annoying enough, I don’t need to give him an excuse to come up with girly names to call me while I kick his butt. Besides, he’s probably just got another stupid power armor or mech. You’ll be fine.”
“But I’ve got a show to play.”
“Yeah, no. Nobody is going to show up to your concert with him out causing a ruckus out there anyway. I can already hear people running away in the streets right now.”
“But he’s your annoyance. He’s not even really a rival.”
“And what better stepping stone on your way out of my apprenticeship than clobbering someone I regularly beat up?”
“Bro, that sounds more messed up than you think.”
“Shut up, Kidd!” the two of them shout together. Sentri couldn’t help but laugh as it reminded him of old times.
“Fine,” Laney said rolling her eyes, “I’ll handle Jerry while you all sneak out using the band’s bus. They won’t miss it… probably.” She changed into her old spruce do’gi and red sash that she wore as the instructing assistant back at the dojo and head out the door. “You owe me a real sparring session next time. No holding back!”
Laney hiked out into the middle of the busy street, amid panicking denizens of the city flocking to safety, and flips Jerome Gallagher the bird. “Jerry, you slimy bitch, get down here!”
Jerome pulled out his binoculars and took a close look at the woman below cursing him out. Seeing the Fighters Guild logo on the breast of her gi, he began to recall a tall woman following The Metal around wearing the same spruce uniform. Then he did a double take on the larger-than-life promotional material scattered around the city and finally put two and two together that world-famous pop idol Laney Lin was one of the very people he was hunting down this entire time. He took up the intercom again and shouted, “You’re that runt’s student, right? I didn’t recognize you without your red hair and under all that prissy make-up.”
“I didn’t recognize you without my sensei’s fist in your face!”
Jerome couldn’t hear what she said, but he was pretty sure it was an insult since it came accompanied by another middle finger. The door slid open with Jerome repelling down to the ground. With assertion, he marched over to Laney while taking off the shirt of his uniform leaving a wife beater underneath.
“Oh, wow. You didn’t bring some kind of robot to fight for you? I may not be The Metal, but you realize I could cave in your chest with a light punch, right?”
“We shall see about that.” He took out a syringe filled with a viscous blue liquid and shoved it directly into his left bicep. Inhaling deeply, all of Jerome’s muscles pulsated until they acted as if they were flexed no matter what position he took. His veins jutted out like a bodybuilder after maxing out their sets. As he exhaled, his eyes shined the same blue color as the liquid he injected. “Playtime, little girl.”
Not intimidated in the least given Jerome’s track record, Laney rushes at him and throws a lightning-fast wheel kick after feinting with her hands. To her surprise, Jerome caught her foot completely unfazed. Grasping her ankle, he launches Laney fifty feet away into a concrete wall. Without much time to collect herself, Laney is forced to dive away as Jerome threw his fist into the wall. The entire storefront collapsed.
“What the hell, Jerry!?”
“After many tough deliberations, I finally convinced my superiors to reinitiate our super soldier program,” Jerome said while ripping a street sign out of the ground. “Back when our leaders were more competent, no one in their right mind would ever start that program up again. No one in their right mind would allow someone like me into the program. No one in their right mind would allow me to mix gene therapy techniques with tactical steroids. Luckily for me, we are in a grave lack of competency right now and no one is in their right mind.”
With Jerome swinging the hefty steel pole around like a baseball bat, Laney found herself stuck in the position of running and flipping away. A bit too cocky, Laney was caught in mid-cartwheel and sent flying into another storefront. She could feel a hairline fracture in one of her lower ribs, but that wasn’t about to stop her. If anything, Laney was now pissed off because that is going to impact her singing performance later on in the evening. Getting up, she heard broken stringed instruments toss around her. To her delight, Laney landed in a small music store. She found a couple of intact lyres and used her bloodline ability to transform them into unnecessarily large cesti, or battle gloves. Though they appeared as giant knuckle dusters that encased her entire hands.
Bouncing back, Laney came out swinging. She deflected the next attempt from Jerome with one hand and followed up with a hook to his stomach with the other. The Metal always emphasized body shots during their training. Unrelenting, Laney continued to pile punches into Jerome’s gut, causing him to cough up blood as blue as his eyes. Gallagher dropped the street sign and placed both hands on Laney’s head as he drove his knee past her punches and into her nose.
“Oh, you piece of…” Laney spits out while wiping her bloody, fractured nose. “I definitely can’t perform like this!”
“Perform? What, you think you were just going to beat me up like your bastard of a teacher and just go back to what you were doing? No. You are either getting put in the hole for the rest of your life or I’m putting you in the ground right now.”
“Dammit. If I do this, he’s gonna find out and never let me live it down.”
“What are you on about?”
“I can just hear him now, ‘I never have to do that when fighting Jerry. More training is required.’”
“Do what? Ain’t nothing you can do that’ll help against m-”
Faster than a blink of an eye, Laney cut Jerome off by launching something out of her sleeve into his face. The impact sent him flying through the front windshield of a bus and out the back. While he was distracted, Laney took off the top of her gi and began removing weights similar to The Metal’s. The weights cracked the pavement as she dropped them to the ground.
“A while back, I heard that Sensei upgrade his weights to a ton. A ton! Can you believe that? I couldn’t a first. But I don’t like dragging behind, so I did as well. My joints felt like shit and I threw up blood a few times, but I got used to it fast enough. I don’t wear them all the time like he does, but I have been exercising in them five times a day and it almost feels as good as the five hundred pound ones used to.”
Stampeding down the street back to Laney, Jerome began picking up cars and throwing them at her. But none of them hit. Without her weights restricting her movement any longer, Laney was simply too fast. When Jerome finally caught up to her to deliver a haymaker, she dipped out of the way, grabbed him by the face, and threw him to the ground. He tried to grab her legs, but Laney just kept stomping his head into the pavement over and over again until he stopped squirming about.
Upon seeing him defeated, armed soldiers and field medics descended from the other helicopters to reinforce Jerome. None of them had the guts to even shoot at Laney as she walked away giving them all the bird with one hand and clamping her broken nose with the other.
“Now he owes me double for this one.”
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This seems like a very dumb plan, but that’s become the norm around here.